'This Week' Panel: The Syrian Threat

Christiane Amanpour, Pierre Thomas, Martha Raddatz, General James Cartwright and Vali Nasr on Syria.
9:08 | 09/01/13

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Transcript for 'This Week' Panel: The Syrian Threat
Let's go places, safely. From wcvb, this is a weather alert. Wrecks good morning, we have flash flood warnings in effect until noon for the area. We're going to show you what is currently going on outside. Take a look at this video. This is the on ramp to 128 south. You can see the ponding on the roads. The cars are driving, it looks like they are ok. If you take a look the other way, cars are backed up. That is because we have route 95 south, only two lanes are open. 95 north, only one lane open. So much rain in a short amount of time. We have had three inches of rain or more within an hour or so. This storm is moving to the east at 15 miles per hour. It will be in quincy and about 36 minutes. In an hour will be near hold. You can see a lot of lightning and heavy rain. It is not severe in nature but notice the storm is generally weakening as it is moving towards the south. That is good news. Traveling to the east, we will continue to vote, unlike what happened in britain earlier this week -- last week. The arab league have not authorized or approved the strike. But secretary kerry says he believes that over the next week or two, before the strike, as congress is getting ready to vote, they will be able to build support in the international community. Is that what you're seeing and hearing? In england, any chance of prime minister david cameron going back for another vote and getting a win? Reporter: Well, on that last point, we were wondering whether this might happen. Because all the talk about what happened in the british parliament pointed the finger at the incompetence of the whip and gathering the votes and noeg -- knowing what was going on with the vote under their noses. But today two senior members of the british government, both the foreign secretary, william hague, and the chancellor of the secretary, george osbourne, indicated the prime minister will not seek another vote. Britain is staying on the sidelines for this one. And that is a huge shock to not only the united states, but to the rest of the world. For decades, britain has been the reliable partner to any kind of military operation. Now france will probably be one of the only ones standing with the united states in a military strike. And, of course, the point is, though, your question, looking at these pictures and those that you just aired just now, is there any way the president cannot give the order? I think many of the western governments believe there's no way. This is not just ugly, it's unacceptable under international law, and the use of weapons of mass destruction needs to be responded to. And that is certainly the signal secretary kerry sent today. Thank you very much. We have seen allies of assad twie cyber attacks against twitter and the new york times. But are they capable of more serious retaliation? Pierre thomas has more. You're hearing that the fbi stepped up surveillance of syrians living in the u.S. U.S. Law enforcement officials are taking no chances. The fbi wants to know if the syrian government has covert agents and sympathizers in the u.S. So the fbi is planning hundreds of interviews targeting syrians living in america. They will be investigating whether hezbollah has the people or the capacity to launch an assault on the homeland. There's fear about the potential for cyber attack. The question is whether the syrian government or hacking groups that support the assad regime can interfere with banking, or cut off the power supply or telecommunications. We're coming up on the anniversary of 9/11, everyone is on full alert. No soft way of putting this. Law enforcement sources tell me we're entering a dangerous phase. Not only the potential ramifications surrounding syria, the 9/11 anniversary is two weeks away, they're very mindful of the libya, benghazi attack on last year's 9/11 anniversary, and then the boston marathon bombings. As one official reminded me, the threats to the u.S. Embassies, there are many officials say postponed. The threat remains. So it's going to be an intense few weeks. Okay, back to the panel. And martha, pierre brings up the possibility of retaliation here in the united states. The front lines for any possible retaliation, israel, and whether hezbollah, iran, or syria will retaliate with a missile strike against israel. The feeling in israel was very much, yes, we would be the place to retaliate. But most senior israeli officials don't believe it will happen. But the people seem to believe that. There was absolute chaos. People racing for gas masks, trying to get prepared for whatever may happen. You have heard hezbollah say if it was a limited strike, we would probably not get involved. But, sorry, I don't really trust anything coming out of anybody's mouths over there saying they won't do anything. I'm struck from the language from syria, they have said we'll defend ourselves. They have not threatened an attack. But that region is braced. Do you buy that that president assad could absorb an attack? Politically, he has to make a lot of noise. But look at the message we're giving to him. We will punish you because you crossed the red line, but we will not interfere in deciding the outcome of the war, that's what he cares about. He has no incentive to get the congress of the united states to intervene, level the playing field, take over the management of this war. He knows we have to hit him, let us hit him and go about our business. And I think then he wants to get on with finishing off the civil war. And so much of this idea of hitting back at assad in part because of the horrific pictures, and credibility comes back into play. The military, the entire region looking at iran and wondering the kind of message it sends to iran if we do not strike in the wake of an attack like this. I think it's critical here. That's probably one of the audiences we have to pay close attention to. My assumption would be that certainly the administration reached out to israel and talked to israel about what this red line and the deferral of this red line for some period of time. The implications of that for israel and how that will be interpreted by the israeli people. To me, this is one of the key audiences. On the idea of retribution or a strike back on the part of syria, the likelihood of that probably right now is very low. The likelihood of it being successful. But it ought to be part of the strategy of this limited strike to ensure that that ability is impaired and put in question in the eyes of the syrians. You make it more difficult, but you don't have a strike that is calibrated enough so that it also doesn't provoke an attack. So assad has a choice at least. Exactly. He's vulnerable in several areas in the middle east, people don't worry about the syrian army. The strength of the syrians is their defenses, air defenses. And that's where they're vulnerable. Those are generally fixed, very expensive, they can't be repaired easily. They become a very interesting target in managing this idea of retribution. Meanwhile, martha, the idea, the whole specter of a possible conflict with iran weighing on the president and his advisers as well. Part of the calculation of going to congress now is they believe it's possible sometime in the next six months, 12 months, 18 months, go to congress to get authorization for a strike against iran as well. That's right. And that's what the israelis are watching as well so carefully. That's what benjamin netanyahu, I'm sure, when the president came out yesterday, and i suspect he had advanced warning about that, thinking what kind of message are we sending to iran and to prepare his nation. Exactly that. One of the things I think about here -- you heard secretary kerry talk about the political solution. What is the political solution here? And will this kind of strike help with the political solution? I don't think so. What's the answer? Well, I think a political solution is very difficult because a political solution would involve dealing with somebody who has used chemical weapons, and would potentially have to be part of the solution to the crisis. I think now it's very difficult for us to engage in any kind of a diplomatic negotiation. And I also think the audience is beyond just iran, north korea, china, russia. Something big has happened. The president has passed american foreign policy to congress. I think everybody around the world is going to calibrate the way in which they read american reaction to a host of events. And I think we can agree, something big has happened. Thank you for the insight and analysis.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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